Our trip is coming to an end all too quickly but before we return to reality in Australia we would break up our long transit with 4 nights in Dubai. We left Poland at a temperature of 5 degrees in what they would consider one of their warmer months, and after a 5 hour flight arrived in Dubai to a balmy 30 degrees in what they would consider one of their cooler months! What a wonderful world we live in!
Since the crazy boom Dubai's tourism industry experienced around 15 years ago the competition for five star hotels is fierce and it is hard to find a bad one. When there are so many options at the same level it is the little things that sets them apart. We decided to stay at the Shangri-La Dubai which Gianni's family had stayed at recently and had recommended us. The hotel is perfectly positioned close to the Dubai Mall, the Burj Kalifa (the infamous tallest tower in the world) and Downtown Dubai but it was in fact one of the first five-star hotels in the area. The building shows no sign of age but is currently under renovation, such is the fierce competition in the area (although unless they told you about the works you wouldn't even realise as the makeshift lobbyist that good). The renovation works are due to be completed next month and let me just say the plans look absolutely incredible! From the moment we checked in we could instantly see why this hotel came highly regarded. Five star luxury, all the perks but the biggest thing that sets it apart is the service. Everyone opens doors, greets you with a warm smile and bow, asks how you are as they pass you by. This sort of respectful service is what you will normally only find at five-star hotels in Asia. If you have ever eaten at a proper five star chinese silver service restaurant you will know what I am talking about.
Our room was quite large with a big TV, business desk, huge ensuite with separate bath tub and the usual tea and coffee/bar facilities all laid out in cosy modern cabinetry. Whilst the sea-view side may have been the preferred option in the past, the rooms at the back of the building now offer the best views in my opinion, looking out of your floor-to-ceiling glass windows you can see the triumphant Burj sparkling at night, with supporting acts in every direction that would keep an architecture student entertained for days.
Our plan for our five days was to relax as much as possible before our trip was over, having done the sand dune 4WDing and desert safaris before we really just wanted to vegetate and that out from our cold week in Poland before heading back to Melbourne (who knows what temperatures will await us there?). The Shangri-La has a few options for that; an indoor heated (and air-conditioned ofcourse) pool on the 42nd floor and a small private gym with breathtaking views, but the more popular is the large outdoor swimming pool and bar on the fourth floor in the front of the hotel. During the day it is a relaxing lounge bar utopia with sun beds and by night the IKandy pink poolside bar becomes one of Dubai's hidden gems of the social scene, with shishas, food and cocktails until very late. Attached to level 4 is the larger fully-equipped gym and spa area with a squash and tennis court (Gianni and I get very competitive, he didn't even let me win squash!).
After seeing the very generous offerings at the breakfast buffet we were urged to try Hoi-An which was a traditional Vietnamese restaurant and traditional is exactly what we wanted. I didn't have much appreciation or knowledge of Asian cuisine outside of Japanese really until two lovely girls on MKR (Tasia and Gracia) introduced traditional flavours to me. We had some idea of what we wanted to order; fresh and thick vegetable spring rolls, huge sizzling tiger prawns, sweet plum duck, wok-fried XO chicken, fried rice and the black cod. We gave the waitress free reign though and ended up with a further serve of delicious crispy fried rice paper rolls with condiments and (chefs suggestion) the angus beef with black pepper sauce. Dish after dish impressed us with the freshness and quality of the ingredients and of course the taste, with the tender pepper beef being the stand out and a welcomed addition. Our dinner included a palate refreshing lemon sorbet in between and dessert was not something I had thought of ordering but our lovely waitress Tran insisted we try the Mango Soup which came to the table looking like a pumpkin soup with a dollop of sour cream but in fact was a generous scoop of homemade coconut ice-cream floating in liquid gold mango purée. A totally delicious dinner and you could tell our compliments genuinely made Tran very proud of her culture and cuisine.
Being in such close proximity to the Burj Kalifa we of course had to visit again. On our honeymoon we enjoyed a very expensive dinner at the (scary) top of the Burj at a restaurant called Atmosphere. This time though we decided to try the signature Armani Ristorante below and we were blown away. More on that on our food blog here. We also took a trip one night to the gigantic Dubai Mall to do some shopping and marvel at the crazy indoor creations including the ice-rink, aquarium, zoo (including their new 4 meter crocodile straight off the plane from Australia) and ski slopes. After a bit of walking we headed over to a nearby hotel known as The Palace. This gorgeous place is owned by the Emaar group who built the Burj and pretty much all of Downtown Dubai area but it is unique as it is one of the only luxury hotels that kept its traditional roots to truly make you feel like you are in a Sheikhs palace.
There we decided we had to try the luxurious Spa which was voted best spa in 2015 for very good reason. We had the best massages of our life there; while I had the tension release massage, Gianni enjoyed a 50 minute massage followed by Turkish bath, private steam room and relaxation shower. The spa honestly is beautiful, it feels like something off the movie screen (the Prince of Persia comes to mind). What impressed us the most was how strong and experienced our masseuse' were. It was absolute bliss and we definitively recommend visiting this spa when heading to Dubai. After we freshened up it was off to dinner at the Palace's buffet restaurant known as Ewaan (this deserved its own food blog) which also gave us front-row seats to the beautiful synchronized displays of the Dubai fountain every half hour and the mind-blowing laser light show on the side of the towering Burj .